One of the great things about being a father is that, well, you get to act like a father. Not in the teaching-your-kid-to-play-ball, carrying-the-sleeping-first-grader-to-bed sentimental-tripe way, but in the sense of getting to indulge in stereotypically dorky dad behavior. Example:
“Hey,” says Sasha, trying to get my attention.
“Hay is for horses,” I interrupt.
Sasha looks confused. “Hey—”
“—is for horses.”
Sasha tries again: “Hey—”
“—is for horses!”
I’m not just messing with her here—I’m trying to teach her not to just say “Hey!” to get someone’s attention. Well, and I’m messing with her, because it’s fun! Because I can! Because it’s a silly-stupid thing to say. Soon, I imagine, I’ll tell her, “Sit down, kid, you’re rocking the boat!” Just like my grandfather used to say all the time.
This is great. I’ve started wearing silly boxer shorts around the house, and Dad’s receding hairline and generally foul aroma are becoming stock jokes with Sasha. Maybe I’ll get a beagle and start smoking a pipe—whatever will bring me closer to the 80s-sitcom ideal of the paterfamilias.
Mostly, though, it’s going to be through the idiotic things I say, and that’s where I need to watch myself. Yesterday, for example, the guy at the butcher store gave Sasha a lollipop, which she asked me to open. I did, then pretended it was mine.
“Where’s your lollipop?” I asked.
She could tell I was joking, but I could also tell she wasn’t quite sure what was up. Was Daddy really about to steal her lollipop? And I could have—I could’ve just given it a single lick to amp up the joke, but that, I knew, would put things over the edge. But I didn’t—I handed it back to her.
This is a danger zone for me. Sometimes I don’t know when to stop with a joke, with the teasing, and I worry about becoming like Homer Simpson or Peter Griffin in those episodes when you just can’t believe, or tolerate, their behavior. Or like a certain friend’s dad, a miserable jerk who thought he was really funny and always had a sneaky smile on his face and a can of beer in his hand. The kind of guy who’d say, “My house, my rules,” knowing it was cliché, and inadequate to reality, but enforcing it all the same. He was Dick Dad.
The worst part about Dick Dad, actually, is that he doesn’t even realized he’s crossed the line from being a dork. Worse, he thinks he’s Cool Dad—hilarious and edgy. So that’s my warning signal: If ever I think I’m being cool, I can be pretty well assured I’m being a fucking dick.